Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

  At noon, the king and his family began eating figs. The fruit especially delighted the princess, who gorged herself with it. They were all too excited to look up from their plates, but when they finally did, they saw each other covered with horns. The princess was a real forest. Terrified, they sent for every surgeon in town, but none of them knew what was wrong with the royal family. The king then issued a proclamation that whoever rid them of these horns would have his every wish granted.

  When the fig vendor heard the proclamation, he returned to the white fig tree and picked a heaping basket of fruit, then disguised himself as a surgeon and went before the king.

  “Royal Majesty, I can save all of you and remove your horns.”

  Hearing that, the princess blurted out, “Majesty, you must have them taken off of me first,” and the king consented.

  The surgeon had himself closed up in a room with the princess and removed his disguise. “Do you recognize me, yes or no? Hear what I have to tell you: if you return the purse that produces money, the cloak that makes its wearer invisible, and the horn that turns out soldiers, I will remove all the horns. But if you refuse, I will cause as many more to grow out on you.”

  The princess, who couldn’t bear those horns a minute longer and who knew this young man still had magic tricks at his command, put her trust in him. “If I give you everything back, you must remove the horns and then marry me,” she said, and handed over purse, cloak, and horn.

  He gave her as many white figs as she had horns, and thus turned her back to her former self. Then he performed the same cure on the king, queen, and everybody else with horns in the royal palace. The king gave him the princess in marriage, and they became man and wife. The cloak and the horn were returned to his brothers, while he kept the money-producing purse and remained the kings’s son-in-law for life. The king died a year later, and he and his wife became king and queen.




  I. Giufà and the Plaster Statue

  There was a mother who had a son that was lazy, foolish, and full of mischief. His name was Giufà. The mother, who was poor, had a piece of cloth, and she said to Giufà, “Take this cloth out and sell it. However, don’t let it go to any chatterbox, but only to somebody of few words.”

  Giufà took the cloth and went about the town shouting, “Cloth for sale! Cloth for sale!”

  A woman stopped him and said, “Let me see it.” She inspected the cloth, then asked, “How much do you want for it?”

  “You talk too much,” answered Giufà. “My mother doesn’t want to sell it to any chatterbox”—and off he went.

  He met a farmer, who asked, “How much do you want for it?”

  “Ten crowns.”

  “No, that’s too much!”

  “Talk, talk, talk! You shan’t have it!”

  Thus, everyone who called or approached him struck him as too talkative, and he refused to sell the cloth to anyone. Going here, there, and yonder, he slipped into a courtyard, in the middle of which stood a plaster statue. Guifà said to it, “Would you like to buy the cloth?” He waited a moment, then repeated, “Do you want to buy this cloth?” Getting no answer, he exclaimed, “At last I’ve found someone of few words! You bet I’ll sell the cloth now.” And he draped it over the statue. “It costs ten crowns. Do you agree? I’ll be back tomorrow, then, for the money.” At that, he left the courtyard.

  As soon as his mother saw him, she asked about the cloth.

  “I sold it.”

  “Where’s the money?”

  “I’m going back for it tomorrow.”

  “But is the person trustworthy?”

  “She’s just the kind of woman you had in mind for the sale. Would you believe she didn’t say one word to me?”

  The next morning he went to collect the money. He found the statue all right, but the cloth had vanished. “Pay me for it!” said Giufà. The longer he waited for a reply, the angrier he grew. “You took the cloth, didn’t you? And now you refuse to pay me? Well, I’ll show you a thing or two!” He picked up a hoe and smashed the statue to smithereens. Inside the statue he found a pot of gold. He poured it into his sack and went home to his mother. “Mamma, she didn’t want to pay me, so I hit her with the hoe and she gave me all of this.”

  Mamma, who was a shrewd woman, replied, “Hand it here, and don’t breathe a word about it to anyone.”

  II. Giufà, the Moon, the Robbers, and the Cops

  One morning Giufà went out to pick herbs, and before he made it back to town, night had fallen. As he walked along, the moon played hide and seek among the clouds. Giufà sat down on a stone and, watching it appear and disappear, he began saying, “Come out, come out!” followed by “Hide, hide!” Over and over he repeated, “Now come out! “Now hide!”

  There by the wayside two thieves happened to be quartering a stolen calf and, upon hearing “Come out!” and “Hide!” they took fright and ran off, thinking the law was after them. And they left the meat right there.

  Hearing the robbers flee, Giufà went to see what it was all about and found the quartered calf. He took his knife and went to work on it himself. After filling his sack with meat, he continued on his way.

  He got home and called, “Mamma, will you open the door?”

  “Is this any hour to be returning?” asked his mother.

  “Night overtook me bringing back the meat, and tomorrow you must sell it all, so I’ll have some money.”

  “Go back to the country tomorrow, and I’ll sell the meat for you.”

  Next evening when Giufà came home, he asked his mother, “Did you sell the meat?”

  “Yes, to the flies, on credit.”

  “And when will they pay?”

  “When they have something to pay with.”

  For a week Giufà waited for the flies to bring him the money. When they didn’t, he went to the judge and said, “Your honor, I demand justice. I sold the flies meat on credit, and they have not paid me.”

  “Here is the sentence,” said the judge; “when you see a fly, you are authorized to kill it.”

  At that very moment a fly lit on the judge’s nose, and Giufà drew back his fist and squashed it.

  III. Giufà and the Red Beret

  Work didn’t suit Giufà. He would eat and then go out to roam the streets. His mother was constantly telling him, “Giufà, that’s no way to get ahead in life! Can’t you at least make an effort to do something worthwhile? All you do is eat, drink, and drift! I’ve had enough; either you go to work and buy your own things, or get out!”

  Giufà went off to Cassaro Street to get his own things. He picked up one thing at one shop, another at another, and was soon outfitted from head to foot. He promised all the merchants, “Let me have it on credit, and I’ll drop in one day before long and pay you.”

  For his last purchase, he selected a fine red beret.

  When he saw himself all dolled up, he said, “There we are, my mother can’t call me a tramp now!” But remembering the bills he had to pay, he decided to play dead.

  He threw himself on his bed. “I’m dying! I’m dying! I’m dead!” he cried, and crossed his hands and stretched out his legs. His mother began tearing her hair. “O my son, my son! What a calamity! My son!” At the sound of her cries, people poured in to sympathize with the poor mother. The news spread, and even the merchants came to view the body. “Poor Giufà,” they said, “he owed me”—let us say—“six groats for a pair of pants . . . . I’ll wipe that off the books, and may he rest in peace!” And all the merchants came and canceled his debts.

  But the merchant who had sold him the red beret let the debt stand. “I refuse to mark off the beret.” He went to view the dead youth and saw him wearing the brand-new beret. He had a bright idea. When the gravediggers carried Giufà off to church to bury him, he followed them, hid in church, and waited for nightfall.

  It grew dark and some robbers came into church to divide up a sack of stolen money.
Giufà remained motionless in his coffin, while the beret merchant hid behind the door. The robbers shook the money out of the sack, all in gold and silver coins, and made as many piles of money as there were robbers in church. One twelve-groat piece was left over, and they had no idea which one of them should get it.

  “For the sake of peace,” proposed one of the robbers, “let’s do this: there’s a dead man there who will be our target. Whoever throws the coin right into his mouth wins it.”

  “Perfect! Perfect!” they all agreed.

  And they all got into place to take aim. Hearing this, Giufà stood up right in the middle of his coffin, and thundered, “Dead souls! Rise up, all of ye!”

  The robbers left their money and fled.

  Finding himself alone, Giufà ran to the heaps of gold, but at the same moment out jumped the beret merchant and reached for the money. They divided it evenly, until only a five-farthing piece remained.

  “I’m taking this,” said Giufà.

  “No you’re not, I am!”

  “It’s mine!” insisted Giufà.

  “Hands off, it’s mine!”

  Giufà picked up a candle-snuffer and waved it at the beret man, screaming, “Put the five farthings right here. I’m taking the five farthings!”

  Outside, the robbers patrolled the church on tiptoe, to see what the dead would do; they regretted going off and leaving so much money behind. With their ears to the door, they heard the heated squabble over five farthings.

  “Woe to us!” they said. “There’s no telling how many dead souls have risen from their tombs! They each get scarcely five farthings, and even at that there’s not enough to go around!” And they fled at breakneck speed.

  Giufà and the beret man each carried home a sack bulging with money, and Giufà ended up with five farthings more than the man.

  IV. Giufà and, the Wineskin

  Realizing that nothing could be made of her boy, Giufà’s mother hired him out as a tavern-keeper’s helper. The tavern-keeper said to him, “Giufà, go down to the sea and wash this wineskin for me, but wash it well, if you don’t want a beating.” Giufà went to the sea with the wineskin, which he washed and washed, all morning long. Then he said to himself, “How am I to know if it has been washed enough? Who can I ask?” There wasn’t a soul on shore, but out at sea was a boat that had just left port. Giufà pulled out his handkerchief and began frantically waving it and shouting, “You out there, come back here! Come here!”

  “They’re signaling to us from shore,” said the captain. “Let’s go back in; there’s no telling what message they have for us. Maybe we left something behind . . . ” They rowed to shore in a rowboat, and there was Giufà. “What on earth is it?” asked the captain.

  “Tell me, Your Honor, is this wineskin washed enough?”

  The captain was fit to be tied; he grabbed up a stick and gave Giufà the walloping of a lifetime.

  “But what was I to say?” wailed Giufà.

  “Say, ‘Lord, speed them up!’ so we will make up the time you have caused us to lose.”

  Giufà slung the wineskin over a back still smarting from the blows and went off through the fields, repeating in a voice loud and clear, “Lord, speed them up, Lord, speed them up, Lord, speed them up.”

  He met a hunter taking aim at two rabbits, and Giufà went on saying, “Lord, speed them up, Lord, speed them up . . . ” Off hopped the rabbits.

  “You little dickens! All I needed was for you to come along!” exclaimed the hunter, and hit Giufà on the head with the butt of his gun.

  “But what was I to say?” wailed Giufà.

  “Say, ‘Lord, let them be killed!’”

  With the wineskin over his shoulder, Giufà went off, repeating, “Lord, let them be killed . . . ” and whom should he meet but two men in a heated quarrel and all ready to fight. “Lord,” said Giufà, “let them be killed!” At that, the two men separated and pounced on Giufà, crying, “You cad! You want to add fuel to the fire, do you?” Reconciled at once, they lit into Giufà and beat him black and blue.

  “But what must I say?” sobbed Giufà, when he was able to speak.

  “What must you say? You must say, ‘Lord, separate them!’”

  “All right. Lord, separate them, Lord, separate them . . . ” began Giufà, continuing on his way.

  A bride and groom happened to be coming out of church at the conclusion of their wedding. When they heard “Lord, separate them” the bridegroom blew up; he removed his belt and gave Giufà a thrashing, crying, “You ill-omened buzzard! How dare you think of separating my wife and me!”

  Unable to take any more blows, Giufà dropped unconscious to the ground. When they went to pick him up and he opened his eyes, they asked, “What were you thinking of to say such a thing to newlyweds?”

  “But what was I supposed to say?”

  “You should have said, ‘Lord, make them laugh! Lord, make them laugh!’”

  Giufà picked up the wineskin again and went on his way, repeating that line. But he passed a house where a dead man lay in his coffin, surrounded by candles and weeping relatives. When they heard Giufà go by saying, “Lord, make them laugh,” one man came out with a cudgel and gave Giufàt the rest of the blows he had coming to him.

  Giufà then realized he’d better keep his mouth shut and run straight to the tavern. But the tavern-keeper who had sent Giufà out first thing in the morning to wash the wineskin had his share of blows to give him for not returning before night. Then he fired Giufà.

  V. Eat Your Fill, My Fine Clothes!

  Giufà, fool that he was, never got invited anywhere or asked to honor anyone with his company. Once he went to a farm to see if they would give him something, but noticing how slovenly he was, they sicked the dogs on him. His mother then bought him a fine topcoat, a pair of pants, and a velvet vest. Now dressed as a country gentleman, Giufà returned to the same farm. They made a big to-do over him, invited him to sit down to the table with them, and quite turned his head with all their compliments. When they served him, Giufà carried food to his mouth with one hand; with the other he stuffed food into all his pockets as well as his hat, saying, “Eat your fill, my fine clothes, for they invited you, not me!”

  VI. Giufà, Pull the Door After You!

  Giufà had to go out in the fields with his mother. She left the house first and said, “Giufà, pull the door after you!”

  Giufà began pulling, and pulled until he’d ripped the door off the hinges. Then he loaded it onto his back and trailed along behind his mother. After going a little way he said, “Mamma, it’s heavy! It’s weighing me down, Mamma!”

  His mother wheeled around. “What’s weighing you down?” Then she saw him with the door on his back.

  With such a burden they moved slowly, and night came on while they were still far from home. Fearing bandits, mother and son climbed a tree, with Giufà still carrying the door on his back.

  At the stroke of midnight, here came bandits to divide up money beneath the tree. Giufà and his mother held their breath.

  In a few minutes, Giufà whispered, “Mamma, I have to make water.”


  “I have to.”


  “I can’t wait another minute.”

  “Yes, you can.”

  “No, I can’t, Mamma.”

  “Go on and do it, then.”

  And Giufà did it. When the bandits heard water coming down, they said, “How about that, it’s started to rain!”

  A few minutes later, Giufà whispered, “Mamma, I have to do something else now.”


  “I can’t wait another minute.”

  “Yes you can.”

  “Mamma, I can’t.”

  “Go on and do it, then!”

  And Giufà did it. When the bandits felt it falling on them, they said, “What on earth is this, manna from heaven? Or is it the birds?”

  The next thing Giufà whispered (he was still holding th
at door on his back) was, “Mamma, it’s heavy.”

  “Hold on to it anyway.”

  “But it’s heavy, Mamma!”

  “You better not let go of it.”

  “Mamma, I can’t hold it any longer.”—and he let it fall right on the bandits.

  Without waiting to see what had hit them, the bandits fled like the wind.

  Mother and son came down the tree and found a sack full of coins the bandits had been dividing up. They took the sack home, and the mother said, “Don’t tell a soul about this, unless you want the law to send us both to prison.”

  Then she went out and bought raisins and dried figs, climbed to the roof and, when Giufà went outdoors, she pelted him with raisins and figs. Shielding himself, Giufà called into the house, “Mamma!”

  “What do you want?” she replied from the roof.

  “Raisins and figs are falling!”

  “It’s obviously raining raisins and figs today, what else can I say?”

  When Giufà had gone off, his mother took the gold from the sack and left in its place rusty nails. A week later, Giufà looked in the sack and found the nails. He began shouting at his mother. “Give me my money, or I’ll tell the judge!”

  “What money?” she replied, and paid no more attention to him.

  Giufà went to the judge. “Your Honor, I had a sack of gold, and my mother replaced it with rusty nails.”

  “Gold? Whoever heard of you having any gold?”

  “Yessirree, I did—that day when it rained raisins and dried figs.”

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